Measuring Complex Outcomes of Environment and Development Interventions

Period: April 2012-March 2015


Funder:  ESRC-DFID joint fund for poverty alleviation research

PhD Project: Emilie Beauchamp

Researchers: Tom ClementsKatherine Homewood (UCL), Terrence McCabe (University of Colorado), E.J. Milner-Gulland, David Wilkie (WCS), Emily Woodhouse, and Emilie BeauchampCollaborators:

Wildlife Conservation Society, University of Colorado Boulder, University College London 


Project background

Measuring the impacts of development projects is increasingly viewed as critical in order to assess their contribution to global development. Rigorous impact evaluation methodologies have been developed to effectively attribute changes to projects by comparing intervention sites to controls. However, these methods have tended to focus on standard economic measures of poverty such as income which may not capture outcomes considered relevant by local people, for example resource tenure, access to education, changes in governance, and autonomy. Some of these outcomes may be difficult or inappropriate to quantify lending themselves to qualitative analyses which are rarely used. Applying a multi-dimensional and more holistic concept of wellbeing incorporating qualitative elements may be more illuminating, and puts local people at the centre of decision-making.

The difficulty is that the concept of wellbeing can be difficult to put into practice, and there are many different conceptions. Wellbeing entails not only objective circumstances such as material assets, but also the individual’s subjective interpretation of them. Focusing on experienced wellbeing at the individual level is most appropriate as it is individual people who make decisions regarding how to trade off different dimensions of wellbeing. What constitutes a good life and how this is achieved, also differs considerably across time, space, and culture, and with respect to age and gender. 


The Project

To formulate methods to measure wellbeing that allows international and inter-temporal comparisons requires a universal framework or approach with flexibility to capture these local nuances and group differences.

The three year project focuses on the outcomes of interventions designed to counter increasing environmental resource scarcity, caused by unsustainable use of biodiversity, deforestation, and degradation of ecosystem services, arguably some of the greatest long-term threats to human wellbeing. Environment-development interventions such as payment for ecosystem services (PES) projects are also some of the hardest to assess, since the underlying problems are often complex, and potentially impact multiple aspects of human wellbeing. The project aims to improve the implementation of policies in the environment-development sector through enhanced understanding of what works, based on more appropriate measurement of the impacts of interventions on the wellbeing of people. We are centering the research around two case studies: one in Simanjiro, Tanzania and the second in the Northern Plains of Cambodia, where there are complex interventions including PES projects. The field sites have been selected to build on and expand existing longitudinal quantitative data and qualitative understandings.

The work involved three components:

terview(1) Methodological: focusing on advancing the understanding of methodologies and metrics to measure the impacts of environmental and development interventions across different scales, cultures and through time, focusing on (i) the multiple dimensions of individual wellbeing, (ii) how to attribute changes due to different policies, (iii) how evaluating against a single measure e.g. income might distort decision-making.

(2) Field research: expanding the evidence base regarding the impact of interventions on wellbeing by testing the methodological approach at two sites (in Tanzania and Cambodia) that encompass different social, cultural and political settings, to see how the methods perform in different circumstances and to evaluate field interventions focused on PES.

(3) Practice: disseminating the research to inform the understanding, practices and policies of the academic, practitioner and donor communities, and the implementation of environment-development projects in the target countries.



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